Ashland Garden of the Month: September-October

The Ashland Garden Club Residential Garden of the Month for September-October is at 531 North Laurel, the corner of Laurel and Otis Streets. In a sunny space behind a lacy curtain of young birch trees is the garden of Patti Walker and Dennis Robertson. Patti describes herself as a city girl who discovered the State of Jefferson in the early '70s, and has called it home ever since. Dennis is an actor who worked with OSF for many years before his retirement. Dennis purchased his home at 531 Laurel in 1990. At that time, the garden consisted of Bermuda grass, an old decaying birch tree and a few big rhodies. Dennis began gradually to develop the garden, allowing some of volunteer birches from the old tree to take root. Both Dennis and Patti spent years just weeding.

It wasn't until 2006 that the current front-yard landscaping was installed. Dennis and Patti worked with landscape designer John Stadelman, who attended the well-respected KLC Design school in Chelsea England. John is the principal of Green Man Gardens, his landscape design firm. John liked the idea of birches, and suggested planting more. Now, with over 20 small birch trees lining the periphery of the property, the feeling inside the garden is one of light-filled green and gold woodland. Because the trees are so open, and because they move in a slight breeze, one can easily look inside the garden from the street; yet, once inside, the space feels very private and peaceful. One enters the garden through a decorative entrance arch, and moves through the space along curving paths of pavers and fine gravel.

The centerpiece of the garden is a potager, which is Patti's playground. She told John that she wanted to combine edible and ornamental plants in the open space that receives sunlight most of the day. Around a formal path in the shape of a Celtic cross, she has planted squash, tomatoes, beans, and peppers. There is a particularly handsome Japanese eggplant in a large glazed pot. Mixed in with the vegetables are annuals and perennials, such as Amaranth, whose common name is "Love -lies -bleeding." Zinnias, asters and Black-eyed Susans fill an ornamental bed across from the potager.

One of the glories remaining from the original garden is a venerable trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) which overhangs the front porch. The orange-red trumpets of this vine attract hummingbirds and bees. Currently, the main trunk of the vine is supported by a 4x4 post, which was incorporated into the newly broad and welcoming porch steps.

One of Dennis' passions is Japanese maples. He also has a lovely collection of bonsai, which he rotates throughout the year. On the left side of the garden, in an alcove off the gravel path, is a ever-changing focal point, currently occupied by a carefully shaped Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) atop a large pot,. The potted maples are sheltered near the house, just off the driveway.

Dennis and Patti's garden is unfenced, and so open to deer. Lately, the deer have taken a great liking to the string-bean plants. It is interesting to walk around and notice plants that the deer have avoided. For example, near the driveway is an Oak-leafed Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), untouched. Also, surprisingly untouched, are ground-cover roses and some Heuchera. Mixed in with the birches are evergreen shrubs, which will stand out more after the birches lose their leaves, and give the garden nice Winter structure: Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica), Japanese Cryptomeria (Cryotmeria japonica 'Elegans,' Chinese Razzleberry" (Loropetalum chinense). Patti especially likes Crepe Myrtle, and there is a lovely raspberry-flowered one on the East corner of the property.

Both Dennis and Patti maintain the garden, and John, the designer, drops by frequently to check out how his design is maturing. I urge you to take a short drive down North Laurel to see this quite unique and lovely garden.